Q&A: David Findlay, Pugh Family Professor of Economics
Patrick Bagley ’10 admits to sweating while waiting for David Findlay, economics professor and department chair, for this interview, wondering whether the stories of the energetic, no-BS professor were true. They spoke about teaching at Colby, the nation’s struggling economy, and why baseball is a saving grace for all economists.
So, economics. Have you always taught or have you also worked in the financial services industry?
It’s almost been exclusively in academics. I’ve done a little bit of consulting work, but I immediately went to grad school from undergrad and then, after finishing at Purdue, I came to Colby, where I’ve been ever since.
How long have you been here?
It almost pains me to say how long it’s been, as it’s correlated with age, of course; but I’ve been at Colby since the fall of eighty-five.
I won’t even tell you what year I was born.
Wow is right. This is my twenty-fourth academic year here at Colby. Yeah, it’s been great.
Have things changed over the years? For instance, have you adapted your teaching to the recent housing foreclosure crisis and the poor economy?
I want the students to have some kind of foundation first, before we discuss some of the events we’re seeing right now. That said, whenever possible I have incorporated the effects of the recent events in the course so students can see what’s happening.
Given that the events in the housing foreclosure crisis did occur and are still unfolding, it’s fairly easy to predict, in general, what the macroeconomic effects are. What’s more difficult to predict is the magnitude of it. We were just talking about this in my macro principles class today. The big question is how far is this curve shifting.
If Colby students took one piece of knowledge away from college, what would you hope it would be?
Economic literacy. Every faculty member at Colby is going to argue, and justifiably so, that every student should take an introductory course in their discipline. But the more I teach, the more strongly I believe that economic literacy is so important in understanding the events that we see and the policies that we debate as a nation.
Your department has a course on the economics of baseball -that must be a blast for students, huh?
I think so. What’s important there is it’s not just sitting around looking at the sports pages. I saw couple of papers a year ago where there was racial and/or ethnic discrimination in voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s just easier for economists to study some of those issues within sports because the productivity data is so readily available. Sports is a beautiful area to apply economic analysis, and I think it’s interesting for students too.
You teach Money, Banking, and Monetary Policy, an advanced course. Is it more stimulating for you to teach closer to your level of expertise?
That’s a good question. The money and banking course is taught at the junior-senior level, so in that sense it’s more advanced. You can rely on a greater amount of economic knowledge between the students, given the prerequisites, and the analysis is therefore more detailed and it’s fun to engage students at that level. But I don’t want to give the impression that I enjoy teaching that class more than the others.
Recently I went to an Economics Department talk about the housing crisis. I thought it was really cool to get professors together to explain a complex topic to students outside of class time. What was it like to be on the other end of that discussion?
The global economic events of that semester, of the fall of 2008, in the macro economy occurred at such a dizzying pace. To be able to participate in a discussion and try to make some sense of what was happening was a big challenge. One of the questions we focused on was: Were the things that were happening currently similar or different to those happening in Great Depression? I remember at times saying to myself, “How am I going to, in fifteen to twenty minutes, internalize and share what was happening then?” That talk [in November] could be so different if we were giving that same talk today. It was a lot of fun, and I hope it was helpful for students.
So is America’s ever-changing economy providing economics professors a lot to think about lately?
It’s interesting and I’ve said this a number of times in class: I wish this event was not occurring, because it’s going to have such a significant negative effect on so many people. So there is almost a sense of guilt to studying it. But I think it would be impossible for someone in a macro course here at Colby during any year not to be fascinated by trying to understand what’s happening in the economy and to relate it to what they’re learning in class.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention about being a professor at Colby?
It’s a little bit of a discomfort in that, as a tenured faculty member of a top-twenty liberal arts college, I am also completely insulated from this economic crisis. The faculty at Colby is just so fortunate to be here, where we are tremendously supported to become the best possible teachers we can be, and scholars as well. And we get to teach fascinating students.